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'Press revelations over suppressed memos should be reason enough for Labour to renege on its agreement with coalition partner'

19 January 2009

'Press revelations over suppressed memos should be reason enough for Labour to renege on its agreement with coalition partner'

For years now the SP has been demanding an explanation of the Netherlands' political support for the invasion of Iraq. In 2007 the party, together with a number of other organisations, collected 137,000 signatures on a petition demanding a parliamentary enquiry. The PvdA (Labour Party), which had always endorsed calls for an enquiry, allowed itself to be silenced by its coalition partner, the centre-right CDA, and reversed its support. Last weekend the prestigious daily newspaper NRC-Handelsblad published a critical memo from 2003. Written by senior civil servants, the memo was addressed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs – but it never reached him. It stated that Dutch support for the war did not comply with the demands of international law. Harry van Bommel answers six questions on the affair.

How important were the memos that NRC-Handelsblad has brought into the open?

Harry van Bommel“What they prove above all is that there were indeed doubts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the lawfulness of the Netherlands' support for the war. The government has always denied this. Balkenende never wanted an enquiry because, he said, everything was already known, but these memos contradict this.”

How can such an important memo fail to reach the minister?

“That's a good question. And that's why, also, it's so important that we hold a parliamentary enquiry. In this way people can speak under oath, which gives some hope of clarity.”

What information would you like to see brought into the open?

“The question which has been put repeatedly by so many people: did our government know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Did our government know that they were not speaking the truth, that the Dutch people were being misled so that they would give their support to a war of aggression against Iraq? The Iraq war was sold around the world on the basis of 935 lies. The question is simple. On the basis of what information did the government decide to support the US? This is of huge importance, not just in itself but in relation to future decisions on such essential matters as war and peace."

The Senate seems to be headed for an enquiry, but the lower house of parliament seems also now to be warming to the idea. Which house of parliament is going to conduct this enquiry?

“I would first of all be extremely pleased if there was an enquiry. We must bring the truth to light. It is of course ridiculous that in the US and Britain these questions have long been the subject of enquiry while we in the Netherlands must make repeated calls on an unwilling prime minister, one who was prepared to go so far that he used the agreement drawn up between the different parties in the coalition when they took office to keep the lower house of parliament out of the game. Hopes were then invested in the Senate, where the PvdA representatives would have a freer hand. But an enquiry of this kind really belongs primarily in the lower house, in parliament's main legislative chamber."

Things seem to be closing in on Prime Minister Balkenende and his party, the CDA.

“That's true. By repeatedly opposing an enquiry, you create the suspicion that you have something to hide. If a memo with important information then comes to light, this suspicion is confirmed. This should surely be a reason for the PvdA to have the courage to break the coalition's agreement on this point. The search for truth must always take precedence.”

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